When Are External Links Good for SEO?

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SEO campfire stories like to strike fear into the hearts of businesses managing content on their website. These stories whip novice “webmasters” (your average online business owner) into a frenzy, having them think that a poorly placed comma can shut down their search engine optimization efforts. One of these supposed culprits is external linking. If you are a business owner who has received instruction on how to manage the blog (for example) on your website you may have been dissuaded from linking to other websites from a neophyte internet marketer. However by explicitly following such misguided advice you are most likely not providing your website’s visitors with a truly useful experience. Either that or you are cutting corners.

I’m here to tell you that using external links on your website is not only perfectly fine, it is both directly and indirectly good for your SEO efforts because ultimately, it serves the user – your customer.

7 Situations Where External Linking is Good for Your Website

1. When the Linked-to Site is Related to the Scope of Your Business as a Consumer Resource

While it varies by the nature of your business the chances are that there are other businesses that complement yours. If a customer uses your product/service “A” they will likely need to also use product/service “B”. For example, a consumer in need of a local Realtor (you) may also need the services of a local moving company or interior designer. It simply makes sense that you provide them with your recommendations. Adding these recommendations in the form of a linked referral (pointing to the moving company’s website) adds value to the consumer on your website. They will spend more time on your site and see you as a trusted resource for all things directly and indirectly related to your industry.

2. When You’re Referencing a Source of Information

You will often be quoting outside sources of information if you are maintaining a blog or corporate news portal on your website. In fact, if you are not referencing facts, statistics, and current event stories you are not providing readers with a comprehensive accounting of the state of affairs in your industry. If you are quoting any of the above but not providing links to the information source you may as well be making it all up, in the eyes of your visitors. By linking to the authoritative source you answer your customers’ questions and make yourself a perceived authority in the process. Google has stated that if you provide your visitors with relevant outbound links that enhance their experience you are absolutely encouraged to do so. Do so.

3. When You’re Providing Content Attribution

Just like quoting facts and interesting stories related to your business and customer base calls for external links, so does curating informative and engaging content. The web has a vast array of videos, images, and infographics available for you to use to add value to your website in service of your customers, as long as you provide linked attribution to the original source. Just because you don’t have an in-house designer and creative team doesn’t mean you have to deliver your customers to a website devoid of visually engaging content. For example, a Realtor looking to provide new residents with interesting content will be welcome to use a fun “things to do” PDF map created by the tourism board of their city, as long as they link to the board’s website in return. This too keeps visitors on your website longer and causes them to return to reference the material again in the future.

4. When the Site You Are Linking to Isn’t Spammy

Keep in mind that when referencing and linking to resources you should only do so towards websites that are not considered spammy in the online world. Such a thing puts Google on alert, right or wrong, leading them to devalue your website and looking at you as a potential link seller. A Realtor may blog about the feverous debate of a casino arriving their community, and naturally end up linking to the brick and mortar’s online casino in the process, to reference the casino in question. In such a case the Realtor would not be advised to do so. Payday loans, porn, and gambling are all obvious “no no’s” but you can tell if a site is spammy (littered with ads, etc…) upon inspection – if it looks suspect, don’t link to it. On the other side of the coin, don’t judge resource websites by their PageRank score (which many SEO’s will tell you to do) alone – if the content is great and serves your customers in the manner discussed in the first three points you may link away.

5. When You Use Restraint

One external link for every 300 words or so is fine (if meeting the above criteria). But if one page on your website is polluted by blue ink (your standard hyperlink font color) the page is not user friendly and Google may assume once again that you are selling links.

6. When You Use Rel=”NoFollow” in the Right Situation

There’s no need to be a jerk about things and rel=”nofollow” every outbound link on your website. The webmasters you are linking to will take note and may be more likely to ask you to remove the attribution along with their content. They will also not bother providing you with a reciprocal link – something that commonly happens out of gratitude for you linking to them in the first place. Use this link-juice blocking code predominantly for situations where you may host an advertorial or advertising banner on your website. Google asks that you do so, when your website also serves to promote others through paid advertising.

7. When You “Open Link in a New Window”

This last note is just a little commonsense tidbit that so many forget to implement when linking to an external resource. Check that little “open link in a new window/tab” option when inserting the link in your content. First, you don’t want visitors to leave your website when following the link down the rabbit hole. Second, by having the link open in a new window/tab you effectively keep the “time spent on website” (your website) value alive and well as they navigate to a new window to check the external link. The longer your website stays open, the more value Google assumes the visitor has found in your website.

I hope you found this article on external linking useful – perhaps enough to reference it on your own future blog post? Just don’t forget the link! Just kidding (not really).

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